It started on Facebook, as so many things do these days. I was scrolling through my newsfeed, looking for nothing in particular other than a distraction from my day, when I came across a video someone had shared. It was a video of a young woman who was challenging herself to lose weight. Having had packed on some depression pounds myself, I thought maybe she had some news I could use. The video starts with the woman speaking directly to the camera:
“My name is Lakeisha. I am overweight. I have low self-esteem. I am going through a depression. And I want to change all of that.” (Cue tears.)
She goes on to say that she is going to challenge herself to exercise everyday for 100 days. The remainder of the video is a montage, taking you through the ups and downs of her challenge. At one point you see her in tears, tired and frustrated. Later, you see her more confident, trying on lip gloss. The video ends with her dancing around while Rihanna’s “We Found Love” plays in the background and the words “I’ve found…love in myself” cross the screen followed by the hashtag: #GiveIt100.
After I got a tissue and dried my face, I made my way over the website www.giveit100.com to see what that was all about. So here’s the deal: you choose something that you you want to get better at and then practice it everyday for 100 days and share videos of your progress. I wasn’t overly excited about the idea of sharing but I was intrigued by the premise: challenging myself to do something everyday for a hundred days. I have an obsessive and compulsive need for structure and definitive time frames. Along with that goes my irrational preference (need) for things to happen in round numbers (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc.). So doing something for exactly 100 days was perfect for me and my neurosis.
I had taken yoga classes here and there over the last few years. And I always really loved how I felt after class. But if you hang around long enough, you’ll see that I have a habit of avoiding the things I enjoy most, especially if those things are good for me. After throwing down the gauntlet and deciding to find a more palatable existence, I figured that this was the perfect time and way to really form a yoga habit. My gym only offered two classes a week and while I may look like a million bucks, I’m not made of money. Paying $15-$20 a pop for 100 days was not in my budget, even when I was gainfully employed. So I improvised. I found an app that had premade classes of varying skill levels and time lengths. That helped fill in the gaps on days when there was no gym option. Eventually, I ventured out on to my mat and began practicing yoga on my own, without a teacher or app telling me what I should do. I just did what felt right that day.
On day 101, I shared the following on Facebook:
And 295 days later, I can say without hesitation that practicing yoga regularly has not only changed my life, but changed me. All for the better. Naturally, I’ve gotten into pretty decent shape as a result. But that really is only the tip (just the tip) of the iceberg. I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way. I could talk all day about how much I love yoga and all that it’s done for me. But I know you have other things to do today so I’ll keep it to the top three things that yoga has taught me.
Yoga Can Quiet An Unquiet Mind
I hate using the phrase, “I suffer from anxiety” because it makes me feel like I’m being melodramatic. “Suffer” is such a strong word. So I while I won’t go as far as to say that, I will say that anxious thoughts spend a lot of time kicking around my head. I’m constantly thinking (read: dreading, fearing, worrying) about something other than what is actually happening at that very second. It makes trying to concentrate exhausting and the idea of “being present” feel like an unrealistic goal.
Every yoga class I’ve ever been to starts with an encouragement to leave all of your thoughts and worries at the door. And when I first started taking classes, I would smile and nod, knowing full well I wasn’t going do that. Instead I would be in a pose, stretching my hamstrings and thinking about what I had to do when I left class, about something stupid I had said at a party the night before, or whether or not I’d left my flat iron plugged in. But with practice (ah, there’s that word again), over time I’ve been able to really focus on what is happening in the moment. I’ll tell you what: When you are standing on your head or balancing on one leg, you can’t be thinking and worrying about 50 other things. I mean you can try, but you will fall over. And then you’ll be worrying about everyone in class laughing at you (or maybe that’s just me). You have to be focused on what your doing in that moment, what your body is doing, how that feels. Because really, that’s all that is happening right at that moment. Nothing else matters.
You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are
It’s no secret that I have been swimming in a sea of self-doubt the last few years. And as a person who loves to give myself a hard time for being human, when I was done beating myself up for my lack of direction, I would beat myself up for not being a stronger person. It’s a good time. You should try it. (I’m kidding. Don’t try it. It will not be an efficient use of your time, trust me.)
One of the problems with being a perfectionist is that I so am afraid to fail that, that all too often, I don’t even try. No, I know. It’s kind of silly when I say it out loud. But hey man, it is what it is. Not long ago, I was in a class and we were working on a fairly advanced arm balance called Grasshopper Pose. There was no way I could do it. Balancing all of my contorted body weight on one tricep? Sure sure. So I leaned forward for a moment to try it and quickly decided against it (“Lean”? Who am I kidding? It was more of a twitch and probably looked like a mild back spasm to the onlooker). But the teacher caught me and insisted I give it a try. So with the whole class watching (because who doesn’t want to crash and burn with an audience present), I gave it a try. To my great surprise, not only was I able to do it, but I was able to hang out there for a minute (and by “minute”, I mean 15 seconds).
“Holy shit!” I said out of sheer surprise followed by, “Uh, oh, sorry. I guess shouldn’t swear in a yoga class.”
I’ll tell you what, as I write this, I know no better feeling than seeing myself do something that just moments before I was sure I couldn’t do. That’s so huge. With each practice, I prove to myself, over and over again, that I am capable of so much more than I tell myself that I am. That, in and of itself, is worth the price of admission.
Letting Go Is Really Hard But Once You Do, It Feels Really Good
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you know there is lots of talk about breathing. “Breathe into your hip.” “Send your breath to your shoulder.” And I’ll say it: it sounds a little like some new-age crazy talk. I would just chalk it up to being some kind of a whimsical metaphor (not something that you were actually supposed to attempt) and then continue to sit hunched over in some stretch while my tight hip joints screamed at me. One night, while practicing at home, the voice on my yoga app told me to breathe into my hip. And for whatever reason, that night I found it particularly annoying. Probably because I couldn’t do it. So I sat there and made it my business to figure out what the hell she was telling me to do. My hip was tight which made the pose super uncomfortable. I wanted to stop, naturally, because it was rather unpleasant. But I stayed there, until I was able to recognize that part of what was causing the discomfort was that I was tensing the muscles around the joint in an attempt to control the situation. I was trying to prevent the pain by tensing up when in reality, I was just making it worse. It took a few minutes, but when I was finally able to let go of the tension, literally lean into the discomfort, and just try to relax, everything felt so much better (shocker).
A phrase that gets thrown around a lot in yoga is “Let go of the things that no longer serve you.” It’s good advice. Words to live by, really. The upside to falling apart is that you can be choosey about what you pick up when putting the pieces back together. You have the opportunity to leave some shit behind AND, as an added bonus, you are reminded of some of the good parts you forgot where there. A two-fer. That’s some good stuff.
The best part of yoga, for me at least, is how the things I’ve learned in class have carried over into my life “off the mat”. The patience, the self-acceptance, determination, and openness that I’ve been practicing in yoga have actually been practice for my real life as well. I do not think it is a coincidence that after making practicing yoga (and all that comes with it) a major part of my life that I found the strength and courage to leave behind a job I didn’t love in search of something better and start a blog where I share my inner most thoughts with the internet.
If you have ever have had so much as the passing thought of trying yoga, there is no better gift I can give you this Christmas than the strong encouragement to give it a shot. DO IT. You don’t have to be flexible. You don’t have to be strong or thin or young or rich enough to afford the pants at Lululemon (Lord knows I’m not). Start where you are, with what you have. Just start. See what it can do for you. You never know how it might change your life. And your hamstrings.